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For Safety's Sake

Thanks to the end of the Cold War, several District of Columbia schools have inherited security equipment once used to safeguard the nation's nuclear arsenal. In May, the U.S. Energy Department, which manufactures nuclear weapons for the United States, bequeathed the city's public schools more than $1.5 million worth of excess security equipment--metal detectors, X-ray machines, video monitors, cameras, and videocassette recorders--from a South Carolina facility. The gear once guarded the Energy Department's Savannah River Plant in Georgia, which produced plutonium and tritium. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, demand for such materials has fallen off. "This equipment has served the nation well in protecting the department's nuclear-weapons plants,'' U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary said. "It will now serve equally well in protecting D.C. schoolchildren by providing a safe environment that promotes learning.''

Ban Shot Down

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that Congress exceeded its powers under the U.S. Constitution when it passed a federal law barring gun possession within 1,000 feet of a school. The vote was 5-4. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, said Congress went beyond its power to regulate interstate commerce when it enacted the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The federal law, Rehnquist wrote, "has nothing to do with 'commerce' or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms.'' If the gun measure were to be upheld as a proper exercise of Congressional power, he went on, then virtually any federal law or regulation affecting education, including a nationally mandated curriculum, might also be justified.

Moose Hunt

During a visit to New Hampshire earlier this summer, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spent a morning looking for moose--but he found a disgruntled teacher instead. As his caravan stopped along the banks of the Androscoggin River near Errol, Gingrich alerted journalists to a photo opportunity--the Speaker chatting with a couple of fly fishermen, hip deep in water. But instead of the idyllic scene the Speaker was hoping for, one of the fishermen, 48-year-old high school history teacher Tim Kipp, let the Speaker have it. "Your politics are some of the meanest politics I've ever heard,'' Kipp reportedly told Gingrich. The Speaker took the criticism in stride and wished Kipp good luck on his fishing. Resuming his search for a moose, Gingrich told reporters that Kipp, who hails from Brattleboro, Vt., lacked the traditional "New Hampshire conservatism.''

A Higher Authority

Tricia Exstrom had many people she wanted to thank during her speech as valedictorian at Hawaii's Kailua High School, but most of all the senior wanted to thank God. She almost didn't get to. Kailua principal Mary Murakami, noting that state law prohibits activities serving a religious purpose during graduation ceremonies, wanted to delete the girl's reference to God. Exstrom appealed to a higher authority: the state attorney general's office. "The attorney general was able to find a proper balance between church and state,'' Murakami says. Exstrom was permitted to thank God, but she couldn't preach. Her speech was delivered as written.

Painting Removed

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a Michigan school district's appeal to save a portrait of Jesus that has hung for 30 years in the main corridor of a local high school. Both a federal district judge and U.S. Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of a student who challenged the display of Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ'' as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The lower court rejected the Bloomingdale school district's argument that the portrait was displayed for its artistic and historical significance and not as a religious symbol. And the appellate court rejected the district's argument that the case should be declared moot because the student who challenged the display has graduated. The portrait, the court stated, could still offend him when he enters the school as a community resident.

It All 'Ads' Up

The financially strapped New York City school board is turning to some unusual ideas to raise desperately needed funds. Among the latest: selling advertising space on school buses. District officials are working out details of a plan that includes an agreement with the 78 private companies that provide bus service each day to the city's 150,000 students. All the revenue earned from the school-bus ads would go to the school system. Though the plan is in its early stages, district officials have already declared that there will be no "sin ads''--that is, no advertising for such products as cigarettes or alcohol.

Just Kidding

Weeks before their junior-senior prom, students at Highlands Ranch High School outside of Denver began hearing that they'd find more than candy and school mementos in the traditional gift bags distributed at the dance. The word was that their send-off packages would also include condoms. Then, a few weeks before the annual event, the rumor seemed to be confirmed. Three hundred and seventy parents received a letter--on school stationery--stating that, because of the school's "astonishing'' number of sexually active juniors and seniors, the administration would dispense prophylactics to prom-goers. The missive was signed "Shirley Joshing.'' But the signature wasn't enough to tip off parents that the letter was bogus--apparently a senior-class prank. Administrators, who had to answer dozens of phone calls from irate parents, were not amused.

Payment Due

Hoping to send a warning to those living outside its borders, the South Orange-Maplewood public school system has sued 16 families it says are sneaking their children into the district. School officials there filed suit in state court seeking more than $500,000 in back tuition from the parents and guardians of 19 students alleged to reside outside the Orange-Maplewood boundary. The families named in the suit face having to make payments ranging from $5,600 to more than $104,000, depending on the number of children involved and the length of their attendance. "[They] have been unjustly enriched at the expense of taxpayers of South Orange and Maplewood,'' the suit contends, and "should be disgorged of their unjust enrichment.''

A Senior Member

Alaska has seen its share of pioneering women, and it can now add yet another name to the list. This past spring, Kelly Haney, an 18-year-old high school senior, defeated an incumbent three times her age to become the youngest member ever on the Anchorage school board. She was sworn into office three weeks before she graduated from high school. Haney, who had the backing of the local teachers' union, drew 21,851 votes, 469 more than her opponent. With her victory, the seven-member board became entirely female.

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